There are several types of a lung cancer, but by far the most common is cancer of the bronchi (bronchial carcinoma); it accounts for 99% of all cases, and is almost always caused by smoking. Only about 3 per thousand bronchial cancer occurs in people who never smoked.
Smoking damages the cells lining the bronchi, and many scientists believe that these damaged cells represent the initial stage of cancer. Some of these cells can gradually create warts tumor that is the starting point of bronchial carcinoma. As the tumor grows it expands on the lungs, and the cancer cells often enter the blood stream and are transferred to other parts of the body, e.g. brain, liver, bone and skin.
The first symptom is usually a cough, and almost always reinforced, smoker’s cough. This disease is closely associated with chronic bronchitis; more than 50% of people who become sick with lung cancer had bronchitis for years before cancer has developed. With the cough, a mucus (which can be bloody) occurs. Respiratory depression is possible, too. A pain in the chest can be felt, and that pain is sharp (and even sharper when a person takes a deep breath) or dull and persistent. ”Playing” in the chest is also possible.
If the cells of the lung cancer spread to other organs, the first symptoms may be due to secondary cancer (metastasis). It occurs in 1 in the 8 cases, and it is this secondary cancer that warns doctors on primary lung cancer. Symptoms of secondary cancer depend on place where cancer cells settled. If they are in the brain, the patient can get a headache, be distracted, or may have a fit of epilepsy or stroke. In bones, the symptoms are pain, swelling or even fractures; cystic swelling appears on the skin; in the liver the symptoms are indigestion, dyspepsia and (later) jaundice.
Bronchial carcinoma is the most common form of cancer in the West, and the highest mortality was recorded in the UK in which 1 of 18 people dies from bronchial carcinoma. Today, it affects more men than women, probably because lung cancer takes a long time to develop, and 20 to 30 years ago men smoked more than women. In recent times, there is a decline in the incidence of the disease among men and an increase in the incidence among women, possibly because men are smoking less than before, while many women started smoking after World War II. The data show that lung cancer is likely surpassing breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among women.
The odds that you will get the disease depend on the number of cigarettes smoked. “Light” smokers are 10 times more susceptible to the disease than non-smokers, and strong smokers 25 times. If the cancer has not yet started to develop, the risk will begin to decline as soon as you stop smoking. If you haven’t smoke for 5 years, you will be almost as safe as if you’ve never smoked. However, if you mostly stay in the area polluted with tobacco smoke, the risk is increased due to the so-called “passive” smoking.
If lung cancer is detected early – as soon as you develop symptoms or with routine X-ray examination of the lungs – the affected part of the lung can be removed surgically. However, only 5% of people are healed this way. Most patients seek help only after the cancer has already spread, and surgery is no longer sufficient. Smokers must understand that they run the risk of unnecessarily early deaths due to other smoking-related diseases (such as, for example, coronary sclerosis, stroke or chronic bronchitis).
What to do?
Immediately stop smoking, even if you don’t have a smoker’s cough. The tumor develops with years and, if you eliminate the cause, the process can be slowed down or even stopped. If you have symptoms such as worsening of smoker’s cough, chest pain and blood in the sputum, consult a doctor who will listen to your chest with a stethoscope (or fonendoscope) and probably refer you to an X-ray of the lungs. He will send you then to a specialist for pulmonary diseases who will likely check you bronchi with a bronchoscope to see if there are any cancerous growths.
Self-help: stop smoking immediately!
Professional help: surgical removal of cancer gives the best results possible; however, about two-thirds of the bronchial cancers are too advanced for the complete removal, which can be seen after the chest opens. Treatment with radiotherapy slows the progression of cancer and relieve the symptoms for months, or even for years.
Another possibility is the treatment with cytostatics which act on cancer cells. This form of treatment is similar to the methods that have proved to be successful in some types of cancer, e.g. Hodgkin’s disease and leukemia. Cytostatic therapy lasts several months, with unpleasant side effects, but the results so far are promising. Since this is a relatively new type of treatment, there are no long-term results of test studies, although this kind of therapy gives the best chance of curing in cases where the operation can’t be carried out. Selection of the most appropriate treatment depends on several factors; those factors are the degree of the disease, laboratory examination of a sample of the tumor (biopsy) and health status of the patient. Talk to your doctor about the possibilities of treatment. Although the diagnosis of a lung cancer is serious, you shouldn’t think that you are inevitably doomed to death.